'This the season to be extra careful on the nation's highways—snowy weather is just starting to settle in for the season and most drivers are still out of practice when it comes to driving safely in that kind of weather. One of the biggest dangers for drivers during the early snows seems to be multi-vehicle pile-ups, like the one in Lake County, Ohio, on December 8th. Aside from being dangerous to life and limb, multi-vehicle accidents present unique complications when it comes to dealing with any personal injury claims that arise as a result. Here's some information you should know if you're ever part of a pile-up.
1.) Realize that the standard rules for determining liability probably don't apply.
Most of the time, the driving rule that tells drivers they need to keep an assured, clear distance between themselves and the driver in front of them puts liability on the car that hits another car from behind. The assumption is usually automatic that the second driver failed to keep that necessary safe distance between themselves and the vehicle in front.
In multi-vehicle accidents, that assumption doesn't necessarily hold true because it's usually hard to determine who did what in what order, especially by the time the police get there. The occupants of the vehicles themselves may not have a clear idea of who hit who or in what order. Vehicles may even have been spun out of order or been shoved into alternate lanes and hit by more than one car in quick succession. A car that hit you from behind may have been thrust forward by the SUV behind it, making it impossible for the car to avoid you.
Police officers will usually take careful notation and probably photograph where each vehicle in relationship to the rest. It's very likely that two or more vehicles at the start of the pileup will bear the most responsibility for the start of the pile-up, but it will get increasingly difficult from there to assign blame with any relative surety, especially to cars that have been hit multiple times or pushed out of position by subsequent vehicles joining the pile.
2.) Worry about safety first, liability second.
In regular accidents, once you recover from the shock, it's normal for everyone involved to get out of their vehicles and assess the damage if they're able. People usually try to exchange insurance information as quickly as possible. In a multi-vehicle pile-up, in bad weather, stay in your car with your seatbelt on and turn on your lights and your hazards in order to make yourself as visible as possible. You stand a very good chance of being hit again, no matter what you do, and you do not want to be standing outside your car if that happens.
3.) Assume that it could be a long time until any investigation is over.
There are more than likely going to be injuries involved in a multi-vehicle pileup—hopefully, you won't be among those injured. However, if you are, you can expect the whole investigation into the accident to take quite a while to handle. Most likely, if you are carrying auto insurance, your own insurer will cover your medical claims until liability has been established and they can subrogate the claims to the other driver's insurance company (assuming it's a different one).
If it becomes necessary to file a lawsuit to recover your lost wages, medical costs, future expenses, and pain and suffering, an attorney will look at things like the officer's reports, the findings of any investigative team about who was at fault, and records of any citations issued at the scene in order to determine who needs to be held responsible for your injuries. It may be more than one individual or company (if a commercial truck was involved in the accident as well), and experts in accident reconstruction may be called on to help a jury understand exactly how you ended up injured.
For more information or assistance with your case following a multi-vehicle accident, contact a law firm like Clearfield & Kofsky.